Contestability in Queensland: What it means for you.


I’ve been at a few events recently where people have mentioned that they’re intrigued to see what happens with the results of ‘Contestability in Queensland’.

It was during a recent conference where we were debating the future of outsourcing (or partnering) and how it’s being used across Australia where it came up again.

To be completely honest, I knew very little about the topic so you can imagine my delight when I found out we were covering the very subject at our upcoming  Public Sector Transformation conference.

It was time to do some research and speak to Mike Burnheim, Assistant Director-General, Shared Services Department of Science, Information Technology, Innovation & the Arts to find out exactly what’s going on…

Queensland is on the brink of what could potentially be a complete overhaul in service delivery within the public sector.

Recently Queensland Health revealed plans to open its full ICT service catalogue up to the market, starting with end-user services and telephony.

The contestability agenda within the Queensland government came from the Commission of Audit report that was made public in late April. There are 155 recommendations in the report, focussed on transforming government and its service delivery.

To gain an understanding of how the public sector is determining the effectiveness of its current processes of delivery to establish the best solutions, I spoke with Mike Burnheim.

He explained that of those 155, there are over 30 recommendations that have a contestability element, where government is seeking to move into a contestable agenda to test whether it needs to continue to be in that service delivery space or not.

“It’s a fairly broad agenda for government, and it applies to front-office, as well as back-office. They’re even looking at contestability in terms of prisons, public transport, and a whole range of other frontline service delivery areas, as well as back-office. It’s a fairly broad ranging challenge to rethink whether it needs to be in the space of delivering services at all, or moving back away from that and just enabling those services to be delivered.”

Mike’s focus is specifically on the shared services element, concentrating on back office services where he’s currently in the process of assessing the relative efficiency and  effectiveness of current delivery models:

“It’s not a foregone conclusion that back office services will be outsourced,  we now need to go through a process to determine how effectively and efficiently we’re delivering those services internally, alongside alternative delivery models, and make an objective assessment from there.”

What follows now is a process that identifies the different objectives for each service to establish where they will be best placed:

“Outsourcing may or may not be the logical solution. Some  services may remain in-house; there may well be a case for government to retain some of those for a variety of clear reasons – costs, risks, policy agendas, etc.”

” We’re also not in the position to quantify what potential savings may or may not be achieved until we move through this objective assessment process.”

“Where outsourcing is identified as the solution, the benefit is that it’s smaller government. The services are still delivered, we’re just enabling those services to be delivered and contract managing them, rather than the actual doing.  Additionally, when we don’t own the assets that deliver those services internally, we don’t have to make the capital investments that we’d need to build and keep those things up and running. It becomes a shift to operational expenditure, as and when we use those services. There are a whole range of potential benefits if we implement these processes properly.”

This transformation process doesn’t come without its risks; objective assessment of current delivery is a new space for much of the public sector. Mike explained:

“We want to be able to deliver a roadmap of the servicing and functions we think are potentially able to move, as well as the ones that we probably wouldn’t contemplate in first phase. Once we’ve got that endorsed, we’ll move through an implementation planning process.

“The real risk is the fact that government has been used to an internal delivery model  for decades. We haven’t been playing in a competitive market space yet. One of our risks is to be able to objectively assess the market maturity and the potential that the market brings to this space. We’re not skilled to do that, so one of the first things that we’ve done is gone out to the industry to engage an industry partner to assist us to do that. We’re getting claims from various industry suppliers as to  what they can do. We need to reality test these claims with a good industry partner, so that we can discount a range of options and come down with what the realistic options are for government, that we could then assess our internal services against. Our first priority is to get that robust industry partner to work with us on moving through this next process. We hope to have that in place in October.”

One of the other biggest challenges facing the public sector is the softer side of business transformation, one that will ultimately drive success; culture.

“The  Queensland Public Service Commission has said, if we’re going to build ourselves as a public sector for the 21st century, let’s start at reconceptualising what our role is.

“A new set of public sector values have just been released that are contemporary values that we will be moving the sector towards – customers first, ideas into action, unleash potential, be courageous, empower people.  For a transformation agenda, it’s starting at a fairly high level, in terms of how we redefine role, culture, values, look at service redefinition, and then the skillsets that we’ll need to follow through and deliver that new way of operating. They’re big challenges to change our thinking, which, in a real sense, has been traditional delivery thinking for decades.”

Hear more from Mike during Public Sector Transformation 2013 where he will be delivering the Keynote Presentation: Contestability in Queensland – Moving from a Provider to an Enabler.

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